Exploring the collections of the Mercantile Library:

Celebrating National Rose Month
For those gardeners who treasure roses, it is no surprise that June is named National Rose Month, because they know this is the month when the beauty and fragrance of roses dominate their gardens. The Mercantile Library celebrates Rose Month with highlights from several collections that explore the botanical, literary, and historical nature of one of America’s favorite flowers.
Ruth Porteous (1899-1990) Roses, n.d., oil on board.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library Art Museum
Fossil evidence indicates that roses are 35 million years old, and some 150 species of the genus are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The history of cultivated roses began 5,000 years ago, probably in China, but the rose has had a notable role in several historical periods, such as during the Roman period in the Middle East and in 15th century England’s famous War of the Roses. Rose lovers throughout history included King Charlemagne who grew them in his palace at Aix-la-Chapelle; Empress Josephine Bonaparte, wife of Napoleon, who had 250 different roses from around the world in her gardens; and Thomas Jefferson who featured them extensively at Monticello and shared them generously with friends in France.
Plantes de la France: Décrites et Peintes d'après Nature / par M. Jaume Saint-Hilaire.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL
Josephine Bonaparte’s roses were painted by noted French botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) whose work inspired innumerable other illustrated volumes dedicated to French plant life. This example from the Mercantile’s early collection, Plantes de la France, features stipple engravings by botanist and artist Jaume Saint-Hilaire (1772-1845) of over a thousand varieties of plants, including two types of roses. The illustrations are as accurate and instructive as they are lovely, and the accompanying text made this an invaluable historic and educational resource.
Plantes de la France: Décrites et Peintes d'après Nature / par M. Jaume Saint-Hilaire.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL
The history of roses in the United States involves the converging paths of native and cultivated roses. Native roses were valued by indigenous people for their nutritional and medicinal properties, while New England settlers brought slips of their favorite European roses to plant in the colonies. Through international trade, roses from China were also being introduced here, and America’s love affair with roses was born.
Botanical catalogs from the collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL
Ample advice was - and is - available to rose gardeners to help insure their success with “The Queen of Flowers.” These two plant catalogs with roses on their covers barely hint at the volume of publications dedicated to expanding the use of roses in American gardens. In addition to catalogs that provided access to the latest hybrids as well as traditional heirloom roses, both professional horticulturalists and amateur gardeners published how-to guides for success with roses. Among these are The Amateur’s Rose Book, Comprising the Cultivation of the Rose, by James Shirley Hibberd (1825-1890), published in London in 1874.
Shirley Hibberd, The Amateur’s Rose Book, 1874. 
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL
Hibberd was an early proponent of amateur urban gardening in defiance of the established dominance of professional horticulturalists who discouraged amateur home gardens. Shirley’s philosophy was that if he was able to learn horticultural skills on his own and be successful, then anyone could do it if given the necessary information. His book provided in-depth information and extensive illustrations covering all aspects of rose gardening, from identifying characteristic bloom shapes to the layout and maintenance of greenhouses for roses.
Shirley Hibberd, The Amateur’s Rose Book, 1874.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL
St. Louisan Henry Shaw (1800-1899) had the financial wherewithal for European travel that introduced him to historic gardens and the leading botanists of his day. His goal was to transform his extensive property into a garden for his city and to encourage a love of plants among its citizens. One example is The Rose, Historical and Descriptive, that Shaw published in St. Louis in 1882.
Henry Shaw, The Rose, Historical and Descriptive, 1882.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL
While Shaw’s book is more of a general history than a guide to rose gardening success, in the next decade Helen Milman Crofton (1857-1937), one of the most successful exhibitors of roses in England of her time, shared her secrets of rose gardening success in My Roses and How I Grew Them, published in London and New York in 1899.  Milman was as prolific a writer as she was gardener, publishing numerous works on gardening, adult and juvenile fiction, and poetry, many of which she also illustrated. Even into the 20th century, roses retained their fascination, and the market for information on the care of roses persisted, as seen in the US Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Bulletin from 1916 on “Roses for the Home.”
My Roses and How I Grew Them, by Helen Rose Ann Milman Crofton, 1899.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL
US Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Bulletin: “Roses for the Home”, 1916.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL
Roses have long been an integral part of American culture beyond their popularity in gardens. They have become a symbol of love that is cited in poetry, included in paintings, and favored as flowers in wedding bouquets.  One example of roses in art and design is Love’s Emblem published in 1907.
Love’s Emblem, Buffalo NY, 1907. Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL
This charming and tiny gift book, 6 inches square, is filled with decorative pages of poems and quotes related to roses, such as the famous line by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) “Oh, my love’s like a red, red rose, that’s newly sprung in June,” that ties the lovely bloom to its current affiliation with this month. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) expressed a preference for the timing of picking a rose in his line “The budding rose above the rose full-blown."
Love’s Emblem, Buffalo NY, 1907. Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL
Roses have been chosen by New York, North Dakota, Iowa, Georgia, and Oklahoma as their state flower, and in 1913 First Lady Ellen Wilson started the White House Rose Garden. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. to redesign the garden, and in 1961 under President Kennedy it was again redesigned by Rachel Lambert Mellon. In the interim, in 1959, National Rose Month was first observed when a bill was introduced to designate the rose as the national flower. This didn’t happen until 1986 when President Ronald Reagan made it official.
 
Whether we enjoy roses in art, poetry, in horticultural studies, or in our own treasured gardens, June is the month to revel in their beauty and breathe in their fragrance.
White House Rose Garden, 1962, The St. Louis Globe-Democrat Collection,
St. Louis Mercantile Library at UMSL


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